Celtic Myth and Legend
by Charles Squire
Part of the 'Myths and Legends' series published by Gresham in the early 20th century, 'Celtic Myth and Legend' is actually a reissue of a 1905 work, 'The Mythology of the British Islands'. It differs from the rest of the Gresham series because it is a bit more scholarly (it actually has an adequate set of footnotes) and a bit more didactic. There is an extensive index with over 8,000 references (all hyperlinked here). Another great feature is a glossary of dozens of Irish and Welsh words and phrases with phonetic transcriptions--finally everyone can learn how to properly pronounce terms such as 'Táin Bo Chuailgné' and 'Pwyll'! This is a good thing. More importantly, Squire is summarizing a (fairly mainstream) school of thought about the mythology of Britain, in which many names and incidents in the tangled legends of the dark ages can be traced to ancient Pagan myths. The Celtic fairy faith is explained as a survival of the worship of ancient tutelary gods and goddesses. When one considers that the other two leading theories are that the fairies are supernatural transdimensional entities or reclusive troglodyte pygmies, this seems to be fairly rational.
Through the ancient chronologies of Irish invasions and the heroic age of the Fenians, through the Welsh tales from the Mabinogion, and into the age of Arthur, we see similar names, themes and story elements crop up again and again. For instance, the ancient sky-God Lludd, is confused with a sea-god, Llyr, who eventually morphs into King Lear. Llud's daughter Creudylad, becomes Cordelia. The magic cauldron of ancient Celtic mythology becomes the Holy Grail. And so on.
There are many parallels to classical mythology, and Squire uses these as reference points, e.g. by calling the War of the Bull of Cualgne, 'The Irish Iliad,' Cuchulainn, 'The Irish Achilles,' and Branwen, 'The British Aphrodite.' Some of these analogies do break down on close examination, but they can aid the reader's absorption of this lesser-known branch of mythology.
While Squire is trying to make a point, and there is more apparatus than the typical Gresham Myths and Legends book, he also tells these timeless stories in a very entertaining fashion.
--John B. Hare, November 28th, 2005.